Someone has angered the Space Gods. Come on, who did it? No one is going home until someone owns up.
That’s surely the only explanation for the array of NASA missions that are suddenly in trouble. First there was Kepler, then Opportunity, Dawn, and Curiosity. Now things are even worse, as the Hubble space telescope is in a spot of bother.
“It’s true. Very stressful weekend,” Dr Rachel Osten, Deputy Mission Head for the Hubble mission, wrote on Twitter. “Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do. Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic.”
NASA also later confirmed the issue in a tweet.
Hubble uses six gyroscopes to point itself towards distant targets, like galaxies and stars. All six were replaced by an astronaut servicing mission aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2009, but there have been no replacements since.
The telescope needs a minimum of three gyroscopes to operate its full science program. If it drops below three, “Hubble will automatically place itself into a protective safe mode,” a NASA document noted.
And that’s exactly what has happened here, with an unknown fault leaving the telescope with just two working gyroscopes. All hope is not lost though, as the telescope can still operate with two, or even just one, although it’s science capabilities will be reduced.
“Not really scary, we knew it was coming,” Dr Osten said in a tweet. “[T]he plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain,” she added, with the last gyroscope being kept in reserve to increase observing time.
Hubble continues to perform groundbreaking science, and astronomers will be adamant that the mission should continue as long as possible. In the absence of the Space Shuttle, servicing missions are no longer possible though, although there have been suggestions upcoming spacecraft like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon could be used.
But we really have been inundated with bad space news lately. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler telescope looks like it is nearing its end as fuel runs out, while the Mars rover Opportunity has failed to wake up so far from a huge dust storm on the Red Planet.
The Curiosity rover has also experienced a glitch on Mars, limiting its operations, while the interplanetary Dawn spacecraft’s mission is coming to an end as it runs out of fuel. Hubble should survive, but we could really do without the stress.
Please Space Gods, just tell us what you want. If we have to sacrifice Neil deGrasse Tyson, so be it. Just let us keep Hubble working. Thanks.